It is not what you say it is how you say it

I read a news article about charter schools on RadioNZ the other day. It was a masterclass in how to hint at negative things without having to prove that what you are hinting at is true. It hinted at, it referred to, but it never openly made an accusation yet you finished the article certain that something was  wrong.To explain to you what I mean I will break down some of the techniques used in the article.

First, they used a headline that stated a well-known fact as if it was surprising.

‘Difficult’ students going to charter schools

Partnership schools were created specifically to help those students who were falling through the gaps in State schools so of course ” difficult students ” will be attending charter schools. This headline makes it appear that this is an unexpected phenomenon.

Next, they said something negative but then immediately back away from it.

A ministry report found some newly established charter schools did not do well last year, though it was too early to draw conclusions.

…It said it was too early to draw definitive conclusions about the progress of the new schools

Of course, if some did not do well why are they not mentioning the rest that did? See how by focussing only on one aspect of the report the entire article is being framed?

They then chose to use a quote that is a very negative way of describing the situation. Instead of saying that the ministry felt that no audit was warranted as they were satisfied with the accuracy of the annual reports they say…

“The ministry has no external information to suggest that the performance reporting in the annual reports is inaccurate such that it would have warranted an audit or other information-gathering.”

A statement worded like this makes me question the bias of the person who wrote the report for the ministry. They are basically saying that were unable to find any external information to help them show that the annual reports were wrong so that they could justify an audit.That may not have been the intention of the report writer but by choosing this as a quote, the journalist is helping to form a negative impression in the reader’s mind.

Another ministry document showed the government had allowed four of the schools to offer religious instruction this year because it was consistent with their special character.

The use of the word “allowed” hints that they didn’t already have permission or that it was an unexpected request which is a negative spin. I certainly was left in no doubt by the end of the article how I was supposed to feel about charter schools.


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